Digital Dress Making Takes On Fashion Week

At last week’s Spring 2013 Paris fashion week, amidst the many hand-sewn, hand-tailored dresses that graced the runway were two pieces that were just a little different than the rest:


Image Source: The Verge

These two little numbers were 3D printed!  The dress on the left was created by Neri Oxman, designer and Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT Media Lab. I find Oxman’s work compelling because it draws connections between the built and natural environment- her projects are inspired by ecological and biological processes, which she integrates into designs for products, architecture and digital fabrication. She created the term ““material ecology” to describe the study and design of products and processes integrating environmentally aware, computational, form-generation processes and digital fabrication.” Oxman created a structured mini skirt and cape covered in what was colorfully described by the site Architizer as “trip-tastic trompe l’oeil seashells.” After looking at the close-up shots of the ensemble, I also think they resemble teeth or scales, which is simultaneously unsettling and compelling. You can get a better look of the dress material here. But as is the case with a great deal of art and couture fashion, something that creates discomfort  also causes a viewer to stop and think about the piece. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but the ensemble seems to remind me of the prehistoric era- it’s both modern and pre-evolutionary at the same time.  The construction of the dress is really quite interesting- it was constructed using an Stratasys’ Object Connex multi-material 3D printer, which can print objects using a variety of different hard and soft materials. For example, the Objet Connex 500 can use up to 14 different materials simultaneously.



Images Source:

The black, exo-skeleton like dress was designed by Austrian architect Julia Koerner who is currently a lecturer at UCLA. She collaborated with the third party 3D printing service Materialise to create the dress.



Image Source:

Both Oxman and Koerner designed these dresses in collaboration with Belgian couture designer Iris van Herpen, and debuted these pieces in van Herpen’s “Voltage” collection, which explores the theme of organic life within the context of natural electricity.

I also wanted to add that the dark, armor like appearance of Koerner’s piece is a contrast to the dress that Koerner designed the year before, also in partnership with Iris van Herpen. The earlier dress, part of van Herpen’s Hybrid Holism collection evokes lightness both in color and form.


Image Source: Michel Zoeter on

It’s really fascinating to see how the technology of 3D printing can be utilized to create very dichotomous effects- light/dark, structured/free-flowing, organic/constructed- you get the idea.

While creating clothing like the pieces above is still out of reach for the average person (or anyone who doesn’t have access to an industrial 3D printer costing tens of thousands of dollars), I wonder what implications digital fabrication will have on traditional art and craftsmanship of dress making. What does this mean for the way we will think about apparel design and construction and the fabrics or materials we would normally consider using to make clothing?

I think the following quote by Neri Oxman provides some food for thought:

“The incredible possibilities afforded by these new technologies allowed us to reinterpret the tradition of couture as “tech-couture” where delicate hand-made embroidery and needlework is replaced by code” (Materialise, 2013).


Wearable Stratasys and Materialise 3D Printed Pieces Hit Paris Fashion Week at Iris van Herpen Show (2013, January 22). Available from:


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